Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis used the backdrop of the burned-out Third Precinct Minneapolis police station Monday to attack incumbent Sen. Tina Smith and other Democrats who have called for reforms in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
Warning that police reform efforts are descending into mob rule, Lewis called for the restoration of public order. He was flanked by about two dozen supporters, including several retired police officials.
“This notion that we’re going to defund police departments: Who are you going to call, Dr. Phil?” he asked.
Lewis assailed calls to abolish the police and singled out a statement by Smith in which she said “there is something dangerously wrong about the role police play in society.”
Smith’s campaign issued a statement Monday afternoon saying she doesn’t support abolishing the police.
“It is clear that we need to reimagine policing in a way that emphasizes de-escalation and community engagement. This is how we fulfill the fundamental promise that everyone feels safe in their home, on the streets in their neighborhood, and in their community,” Smith said.
Lewis’ pro-law enforcement message comes amid a nationwide debate over police and police tactics that’s likely to carry into this year’s election. Lewis said the conversation has now moved to Washington, D.C. He faulted Smith for not condemning statements by Minneapolis City Council members and others calling for the abolition or defunding of police departments.
Two retired Minneapolis police officers spoke in support of Lewis, as did Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag and state Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge. None of the speakers were active Minneapolis police officers or representatives of their union, the Minneapolis Police Federation.
Lewis, a former talk show host, served a single term in the U.S. House from Minnesota’s suburban Second Congressional District before he was defeated for re-election in 2018 by Democrat Angie Craig.
The burned-out hulk of the Minneapolis police station served as a pointed reminder of the rioting and unrest that followed Floyd’s death on May 25.
Efforts to pass police reform measures in the Minnesota Legislature broke down across party lines last week, with Republicans and Democrats trading blame for their inability to come to any agreements. A reform package proposed by DFL lawmakers would have added more officer training, boosted community-led alternatives to policing and raised the threshold for using deadly force. The Republicans’ response would have matched some of the DFL initiatives, including raising training standards and requiring officers to intervene when colleagues use excessive force.
A survey last year showed widespread support for Police Chief Medaria Arradondo’s plan to hire hundreds more police officers in Minneapolis. The City Council responded by raising the Police Department’s funding in last year’s budget from $184.9 million to $193.3 million.
The council also agreed unanimously to ban chokeholds and neck restraints by police officers and mandate officers to try to stop other officers from using improper force.
Despite partisan differences, a group of GOP state lawmakers called Monday for a U.S. Justice Department civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. The request is being made by state Sens. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, David Senjem, R-Rochester, and Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.